Friday, November 5, 2010

Culturally Out-outsourced

Unashamedly, my new favorite comedy is the series Outsourced, about a telemarketing manager who is sent packing to shepherd a group of native Indians in a call center for a novelty company (think: talking mounted fish, imprinted underwear, and such).Todd, who is called 'Toad' with a sharp 'd' by his employees, attempts to explain America to them via the novelty market, a fairly accurate albiet trite expression of American culture.

The Indian mind, as it is portrayed in the show exists at several notches of intensity above the rather flippant and socially forward mind of the American. Although I do not consider myself flippant or forward, I have to admit that most countries, especially in the more eastern parts of the world, see us this way when compared to their own culture. At the same time, India appears to be imitating all things American as fast as possible.

I cringe at the vulgar humor inserted in the show, but keep watching because I am fascinated at the melding of the US and India as I view it from my central California window.My daughter's best friend in junior high was a girl whose mother's marriage was arranged, and we used to love to hear her perfect 'Britindian' accent as she told us in crisp consonants about what it was like to live in India, and then come here. I routinely browse the shelves at Spice of India around the corner, seeing, smelling and listening my way through what seems like another country just a few blocks away from my home.

The concept of outsourcing touches all of us nowadays. Not long ago my husband and I were guided through a computer repair by a technician in India, who during the course of the conversation quaintly encouraged us that we would have time to "have a cup of tea" before he finished a trouble shooting operation. I imagined him sitting sedately in a call center halfway around the world sipping a cup himself.

One of the episodes of Outsourced featured  Todd showing his office a tutorial on sexual harassment. To his dismay, Todd discovered that someone was making anonymous calls to his superior, accusing him of sexual harassment. After exhausting every resource to find out who it is making the calls, and what he did to offend them, he realizes that his very American habit of touching the workers on the shoulder is considered offensive to many native Indians. While most of the workers have accepted his friendly touch, one woman in particular was disturbed by it. As I watched, I thought to myself that they must have really played that up, because I wouldn't go around randomly touching people of the opposite sex that I barely knew. 

Just the other day, we had dinner at a local restaurant and ran into an old friend. She introduced us to her roommate, who was from India, and a whiz on computers. I've been so curious about a native Indian's reaction to Outsourced, that I asked him, a young man I just met, if he'd ever seen the show and what he thought of it. As I asked this, I looked down at my self in the detached way we see when we can't quite believe what we're doing, and patted his back, in a motherly sort of way. I had done it before even thinking about it. A model immigrant, he politely told me that he hadn't seen it, but a friend from India had and she thought it was funny. Well.

Worlds often collide, don't they? And I am reminded that my point of view isn't necessarily everyone else's. That's enough curry in my soup to clean the passages...